People have been defending the coast for generations. Some sea defences, around harbours in the Mediterranean for example, date back over 2,000 years. In the past, people living near the sea would have had to change their lives and livelihoods as shoreline shifted.
Early sea defences
The Romans were the first to use techniques such as groynes, dredging and breakwaters. In England, the use of sea walls can be traced back to the sixth century.
In the Middle Ages many coastal settlements were abandoned because harbours silted up or they were flooded by the sea during storms.
Advances in engineering during the seventeenth century meant that large areas of land could be 'claimed' from the sea through drainage and the use of sea walls, such as at Romney Marsh in Kent.
Keeping the sea at bay
During the Victorian era engineering and scientific advances enabled us to build large coastal defences. They were often constructed with little thought for - or understanding of - how they might affect surrounding areas or the coastal environment. By the 1930s, many coastal defences had become intrusive and unsightly
From the 1940s, concrete made barriers cheaper to construct. However, as the sea 'scoured out' material from the foot of the defences, beaches lowered and severe weather events overwhelmed even the highest sea walls. Their vulnerability became increasingly apparent.
New challenges and new approaches
New techniques have been developed to complement hard engineering and stabilise the natural features and processes on the shoreline Beach recharge and other soft engineering could also be cheaper, and less of an eyesore, than hard engineering defence structures.
Since the 1990s, growing awareness of the impact we have on our natural environment, and the threat of rising sea levels, has shaped the way we manage our coast. Piecemeal and reactive coastal defence schemes have been replaced with strategic long term planning.
Shoreline Management Plans consider all aspects of coastal management and allow local communities and organisations to participate in the planning process. These plans are carefully designed and enforced to reflect the coastal priorities of England and Wales into the twenty-first century.